The North Star

by James M. Whitfield

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: History

Step 1

Start by reading “The North Star” by James M. Whitfield. Tell your students that the poem was written for The North Star, a nineteenth-century antislavery newspaper. The North Star was founded and edited by African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who had escaped slavery in Maryland by fleeing to the North. Then discuss the poem.

Step 2

Say, “Think of some other moments in history (not necessarily related to slavery) that served as a “guiding” light or as a source of some form of hope for the oppressed or marginalized. This can be an object (like a newspaper), an event, a person, etc. Just try to think of something or someone who has ultimately benefited others.” There is a video in the presentation that you may show them as an example to get them started. Then give them some time to discuss.

Step 3

Give your students a few minutes to choose one of those sources of inspiration. Then have them come up with as many descriptors as possible to cast them (or it) in a particular light, one that illustrates them as a beacon of hope amidst a dark, trying time. Again, this source can be a person, place, event, object, etc.

Step 4

Ask your students to write a poem similar in sentiment to “The North Star” in which they depict a person, place, object, or historical event as a source of inspiration and hope to others.

Step 5

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Various

Step 1

This lesson allows students to analyze various concepts and skills, so it is recommended that you have covered several of the “standalone” lessons before assigning this one. The prominent literary devices & techniques that this particular poem includes are: diction, figurative language, imagery, structure (rhyme scheme), structure, and tone.

Step 2

Show your students the following video to give them a bit of background about “The North Star.”

Step 3

Have your students open the following document and go over the instructions with them. In this assignment, your students will be given the answers to a multiple choice assessment. With those answers, the students will have to try and determine what kind of question would elicit such a response. So, in short, your students are going to have to respond to a multiple choice assessment by working backwards through it.

Step 4

When your students are done, go through each of the 10 questions and have them share their responses. Then go over the actual questions with them so they can see how close they were with their ideas. The actual questions are provided in the following document.

Step 5

If time permits, share the exemplar essay with your students.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Various


  • Appreciation
  • Class
  • Death / Grief
  • History
  • Labor / Work
  • Race / Ethnicity / Racism
  • Social Movements / Protest

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Structure
  • Structure (Rhyme Scheme)
  • Tone